Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Inside Voice: Candida Fink, MD, psychiatrist and author

(Editor's note: Inside Voice is a new interview series on The Eloquent Woman, in which we'll ask speakers, speechwriters, and storytellers to share their insights. I'm delighted to include in the series my longtime friend Candida Fink, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who has co-authored two books:The Ups and Downs of Raising a Bipolar Child: A Survival Guide for Parents and Bipolar Disorder For Dummies.Dr. Fink has been featured nationally and locally in broadcast, print, and online media coverage and is a frequent speaker on mental health topics for community and school-based audiences. She was recognized as a "Top Doctor" in Westchester Magazine's November 2013 issue. You can follow Bipolar Disorder for Dummies on Facebook. I asked her to share perspective with us from the point of view of someone who speaks frequently as part of her work in medicine and as a book author.) 

What was your first public speaking experience? Your most recent?

I am not sure how best to define public speaking. One of the first major presentations I did was as a psychiatry resident you have to present a case at Grand Rounds. You present one of your treatment cases in detail to a broad audience – including most of the department as well as anyone else who is interested – from your own hospital or other hospitals as well.  After you present your case, a senior clinician discusses your case – you get dissected in front of your peers. Interestingly, I presented a couples therapy case – happened to be a gay couple – this was in 1989 or so.  But I was surprised that the discussant spent the whole time talking about the negative feelings that a therapist would presumably have in response to a gay couple – when this wasn’t related at all to the questions I had placed to her. I was quickly educated about how the listener will bring their own lens to your presentation. The most recent experience was for a group of educators in a local district – about a somewhat radical way of thinking about children with mental health challenges in school. It triggered a terrific conversation and I hope to do more consulting to this district in the future. 

When do you feel most successful as a speaker?  


When I can cover the main points of the topic coherently – sticking to the time frame allotted – and then having a spirited discussion afterward in which listeners have clearly taken in some of what you have said and are integrating it and ask thoughtful questions that help move the conversation in interesting ways.


What do you dread about speaking?


Preparing the material – organizing it in a way that will be most effective – and breaking things into useful components that have enough detail, but not too much.  The topics are often very broad and I often struggle to narrow things down yet keep true to the complexity of the material.

I also dread the issue of timing, which is a big challenge for me – matching volume of content to the time frame and sticking to it during the talk – including managing questions or comments if they are part of the set-up – and keeping the talk from veering off track.

Do you have any bad speaking habits? Any good ones?

Bad habits include letting questions or audience involvement get me off track --  finding ways to politely/diplomatically end a line of questioning or discussion. I also pace too much. I have trouble just standing still. I project well – and I think I usually can connect with an audience – make them comfortable with me and the material.  

Have you ever had training or help with your speaking? What did it look like? Why did you seek it out?

No training except for some pearls I have picked up from your blog/website – which have been extremely helpful – such as starting with the big point (why does this matter?) and then connecting the data/details to your main point, which is so different from traditional medical presentations in which the main point comes last after all the history and information is shared. Also I have found that generally using groupings of 3 – your insight – helps a lot in managing material/time and helping me maintain focus and rhythm

What's the best advice you've ever received about speaking or presenting?

See above.

Tell us how it feels when you're speaking or presenting.

I am usually pumped/excited to share something that I find important or valuable in my work and that I think will be helpful to other people. However I am also usually terrified that I will fail. In particular, I worry that I will say something inaccurate or incorrect and that people in the audience will be more expert than me and will call me on it, or think I am being ridiculous, or that I have not put things together well enough.

If you knew you could not fail, what kind of speech or presentation would you give? Tell us about the setting, audience, type of talk, content...

I think I would want to speak to a medium size group – maybe 40-50 people, possibly more – parents and educators, in a comfortable room, to talk about how emotional and behavioral difficulties are developmental in nature. A story of brain development that may be happening atypically for many different reasons. To understand this concept to help parents and educators begin to see that when kids are struggling emotionally and behaviorally we can’t just tell them to try harder – or tell parents to just try harder – but rather we have to understand the points in development that are being disrupted, accept that these are areas of deficit/delay, and to build new ways of helping the child experience success/mastery, given those challenges.  That we can’t have exactly the same points of maturation and if we just see kids as bad or defiant without figuring out what is going on with their development, we will lose them. I would like to have opportunity for conversation – challenge – and then thinking about some exercises or challenges – maybe in small groups – depending on the size of the audience.

What's your public speaking pet peeve...as a speaker? As a member of the audience?

As a speaker – poor acoustics and listener questions that veer into detailed and extensive individual questions for me – looking for consultation about their child or client – even after I have tried to move back into the broader topic and flow of the talk. 

I am bothered by those kind of audience questions when I am in the audience as well – and similarly questions that are more about the questioner showing off their knowledge or expertise rather than genuinely asking a question or creating a dialogue of value to the larger group.  In terms of pet peeves about speakers I am frustrated with poorly organized material or graphics that are poorly designed or too hard to read or if the speaker has trouble managing the audience questions and time of the talk.  (My own areas of vulnerability, admittedly.)

Why is public speaking worth the effort, in your view?

The best feedback I received was years ago, after I gave a talk to a group of parents of middle schoolers, and a couple of weeks later in local store a woman approached me and told me she was at the talk and found it so helpful. She felt it was going to fundamentally change how she approached her middle schooler in some important ways and she wanted to thank me for my guidance and insights.  I was truly touched and in my mind this seemed to be the whole point of any public speaking – to get people thinking, to maybe generate change – and even if people don’t agree or don’t find my suggestions helpful specifically, that we started a conversation that could be part of new ways of solving problems.

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